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Fine wine has traditionally been bought and sold on large measures of trust. A seller offers a bottle for sale, most likely something rare, old, or from an iconic maker; provides a reasonably good story of origin (or provenance) to establish that the wine is authentic and has been stored correctly; and buyers line up to shell out thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars.
That has changed in the last decade.
In 2008, Benjamin Wallace’s true crime hit The Billionaire’s Vinegar (soon to be a movie starring Matthew McConaughey) brought to light the story of a German music manager and wine collector who allegedly duped other wealthy collectors into buying counterfeit wine (i.e., wine that has been adulterated in some way, often passed off under a more expensive brand), including several bottles he claimed belonged to Thomas Jefferson.
Wallace’s book became a New York Times bestseller and planted a significant seed of doubt in the minds of collectors everywhere.
Half a decade later, the wine world was again shaken when wine-collector-turned-wine-forger Rudy Kurniawan was sentenced to ten years in prison for defrauding high-end collectors to the tune of at least $20m. (For the whole story, check out Peter Hellman’s new book In Vino Duplicitas.) In the wake of the “Rudy affair,” auction houses began to withdraw lots of wine of suspicious provenance. Lawsuits followed, and one prominent collector — billionaire Bill Koch, who fell victim to both Rudy and the alleged forger of Wallace’s book, Hardy Rodenstock — even began a crusade against fake wine, hiring a team of experts and spending more than $20m of his own money to ferret out counterfeiters.
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